April 9, 2011

The Girl who learned Taijutsu in 10 minutes

She’s young and pretty, wears her hair cropped, and her 5.11 BDUs lay on her buck-twenty frame with authority. Her name is Jill. We meet at TacComm training where she’s my partner for a segment. She’s nice as pie. She’s an officer with Marquette University’s Public Safety Department – a college cop.

As the TacComm instructors refer to my martial background, Jill leans over asking for advice: She’s already a Defensive Tactics (DT) instructor (which could mean almost anything), but is looking to begin martial arts training in earnest. Could I recommend one? I’m happy to help. Choosing a martial art should be based on answers to several questions: Why do you want to train? What do you hope to learn? What are your options for instruction – any groups on campus or schools you’re willing to drive to? We chit-chat. And then I have a thought (‘Ichi go, Ichi e’).

So, I say to her, “Ya know, since we’re here all week, if you like, I can show you martial arts in about 10 minutes.” Her expression furrows to concern, but with a Cheshire-cat grin - “Whaaat?”

Courtesy Jon Phillips
This year’s training theme of Kihon Happo, challenges us to explore not only the technical applications of training, but our foundational understanding as well. Foundational to me means ‘context.’ Learning by context is to discover one’s own ability, rather than waiting to be instructed, and grants permission to do it. Context also means that teaching anything to Jill (coincidental name - see “Ode to a Warhammer”), and more importantly, having her retain it, means I have to understand the context of our situation, and there are several factors in play:

1. With the exception of DT training, she has zero experience in martial arts (not necessarily a bad thing). Yet at any moment her job may require her to protect or defend herself, a colleague, or civilian contact. It may also require her to take offensive action against a non-compliant contact, with or without back up from other officers.

2. Setting aside her department’s ‘continuum of force,’ any application is further complicated by technique training she’s had previously in DT. By way of attempting to recall how to twist a wrist, what so-and-so said about applying arm locks, or utilizing techniques she does not understand, she may place herself and others unintentionally in greater risk under given conditions.

3. To keep my sanity, I choose not to address, except in passing, all the specialized gear of her trade she would inevitably be wearing, from tac vests, to armor, to various weapons, and restraining devices, any of which have the equal potential to assist or become a liability against her in a blink.

4. And bear in mind, all of it would be under stress, in differing environments, with possibly chaotic, ever-changing situations.

5. Oh, and I figured I’d get one shot at this before totally confusing her.

Courtesy Jon Phillips
After class the following day, we walk outside the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Training Center, find a quiet spot on the lawn and begin. I walk her through a few “rules,” then set her loose. It takes her several tries to get her sea legs, but very soon she’s moving and slamming me to my belly and back, rolling me into positions of compliance. I try grabbing her, punching her, kicking her, tackling her – no matter. She’s moving, upsetting my balance and gaining leverage, taking me out of the fight, switching my own intent from trying to harm her to trying to save myself.

Now, granted, we trained longer than 10 minutes, but only because she was having so much fun kicking my ass. I coach her further to drop in whatever DT training she knows into the moment (opportunity) created. Now she’s got my balance and dropping elbows, kicks, and slaps into the fray at the worst possible moments for me. By the end, I’m out of breath – she’s good – and stand up covered in leaves and dead grass. Well done, I tell her.

She is astonished and almost cannot believe what she is doing. The look on her face priceless – childhood wonder amidst dismay, like I had just shown her magic is real. I end the session – we have trained for about 40 minutes, between talking and moving – and tell her this ability is now her own. She is responsible for it and most importantly she must train it with others – it will not get better on its own. Smiling, she thanks me repeatedly and we part.

It seems to me, the foundations of Kihon Happo not only extend into technical areas that we will spend a lifetime refining, but more importantly, exist contextually on a roadmap of our own making, that we can look at and instantly know where we are, where we are going, and how we can get there. With these bearings we can effectively communicate Taijutsu to others, whether weekly students or those who don’t train regularly, but need this gift to potentially save lives. Being able to help Jill was a thrill. In fact, I couldn’t have slept well knowing I had a chance to assist her and declined. I hope it helps. Perhaps she can even pass it on.

Look, no one needs to be taught how to defend themselves, ‘self-defense’ is coded into our human nature - no one is openly attacked or murdered without receiving defensive wounds, pull the plug on life-support and the body will fight to survive for as long as it can. The truth of the ‘Life Value’ here is simple - if you are alive, you either consciously or subconsciously respect your own life, simply because you haven’t taken it. Anyone attacked will defend themselves, people study martial ‘self-defense’ so they can learn to do it better.

Courtesy Jake Geisel
Regardless of style, technique, tradition, or lineage, Jill was able to realize an ability she already had, I merely coached her as to how to embrace it simply and naturally. Again, I don't think I actually taught her anything, only directed her to recognize what she could already do, and give her permission to do it. I see this as by far the most challenging aspect to martial training (and perhaps education in general) – instead of discovering one’s own intrinsic ability and refining it, people unavoidably begin training with biases - waiting to be instructed and waiting for permission to become able. This can create a division in perception, confusing ‘practicing’ (programming of procedure) with ‘doing,’ which may take years of training to reconcile.

I am more interested in folks recognizing their inherent ability and then refining what they already understand they can do. Perhaps this is similar to what Soke writes about as “whole body sense,” the instinct of wild animals that move the instant they notice danger. When Takamatsu sensei first began his own training, Toda Sensei and his dojo used him as uke for an entire year before teaching him any techniques. It sounds like this kind of context was also the basis of much of Soke’s training with his teacher, as Soke reflected on it saying Takamatsu sensei always trained ‘for real,’ and Soke was given the densho only years later.

Courtesy Jake Geisel
As Budoka, techniques are crucial to our development; they supply us with procedure to pair with principle to give us efficiency – highly effective output with low input. Many techniques are counter-intuitive and can only be learned through quality instruction. A technique’s inclusion with any of the schools of the Bujinkan is often considered proof positive of their ageless efficacy. But any technique’s value must be weighed against its application within Taijutsu, balancing out to exploit opportunity and maximize advantage.

Soke has talked about schools of martial arts having lost their Taijutsu, becoming empty vessels of techniques, curriculums of procedure. Is the reverse also true? Could it be said that Taijutsu is not comprised of any particular school of martial art, merely exemplified by them? In the Bujinkan, for example, if we did not have nine schools, but eight instead, would it make any difference in our understanding of principle - of Taijutsu? How about seven? Or six? Or none? Can it be said that Taijutsu exists independently of any external technical form? And if it cannot, then what did I elucidate to Jill?

The brilliance of Hatsumi sensei’s teachings and Bujinkan training is even though for Jill I stripped Taijutsu of its DNA - its culture, tradition, lineage, technical and mechanical forms - it still resulted in a martial awareness that retained its core values as a means to protect and defend life. Could I have shown Jill a technique? Even several? I suppose. But why give her procedure, when I could confer insight, an insight that any and all techniques may be utilized within? An insight that does not require any specific technical data to operate, that does not wait to be instructed, and certainly does not wait for permission to protect and defend.

True warrior arts empower and inspire the moment we activate their ethical and physical message as one: A good friend is shipping off to Afghanistan next week, “Hey, you know martial arts … anything you can show me before I go?”

“Sure – as long as you pass it on to your buddies when you get there. You got 10 minutes?”

Note: Intently watching Jill and I train was a fellow TacComm student - a certified instructor in several martial arts and lifetime practitioner, who admitted much of the Bujinkan training he’s ever seen seems like ‘a fortune cookie, wrapped in a Zen koan.’ But the following day he pulled me aside with great sincerity, “What you did yesterday with Jill … that was really cool.”


Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for this!

Best, Richard

(Greetings from Sweden, I guess Steve is going to have fun being beaten by Nagato! :-)

Judd Bank said...

Thanks for your insight

Craig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig said...

Great post Jim.

And by the way fellow readers, I was the "fellow TacComm Student" who was watching Jim and Jill that day. It was very cool. Jim's coaching inspired Jill to pick up the principles very quickly and organically. Jim is a talented instructor and understands his art well.

Thanks for sharing!

~Craig G.

Anonymous said...

......Picture of Jill ?


Anjaan AJ said...

Fantastic post full of Insight.
Thank you.

If I ever visit your city and have 10mins, will you help me with my Taijutsu too? And I promise to share it with others

Warm Regards